As my time in Sri Lanka comes to an end, I have been reflecting a lot on everything that has happened this summer, and everything that I have learned. Despite many challenges and frustrations, I have still learned more here than I ever could have in a classroom. There is a lot to be said for education, books, lectures, and learning, but it all makes so much more sense once you throw yourself into a completely different culture, country, World.
Americans, especially, seem to have an overly heightened sense of superiority. We tend to forget that we aren’t the only country in the world that matters. Even now as the Olympics approach, I see friends of mine posting statuses on Facebook about how the Olympics are another way for the US to win and show how “boss” we are. We get so full of ourselves and so stuck on our own problems (sometimes rightfully so) that we forget that we are part of a much bigger, global community. I am completely guilty of this too. Of course it is easy to get wrapped up in our own problems and in our own lives. I think also because the United States is so incredibly large, it can be hard to feel a genuine sense of unity at times. Being here has made me realize what it means to have real pride in one’s country. And it is not the disgusting “MUUURRRICCCAAA” pride I see so often at home. The pride here is genuine love for the country as if it is a mother. Pride that I have seen in America is, I suppose, typical for pride of a superpower rather then a loving “mother country”.
All Sri Lankans whom I’ve encountered consistently ask “how do you like Sri Lanka,” with a wide, loving smile on their faces. Even when they say the name of their country you can see the pride and love for their country swell within them, but not in a haughty, huffed up kind of way. In such a genuine, altruistic, and humble kind of way. I know humble pride seems like somewhat of an oxymoron, but that is the best way I can describe it. I have never felt, and still don’t completely feel, this pride in my country. Maybe I do, but in a different way. Maybe in the way I feel about Boston, or Massachusetts, but not about the country I come from as a whole.
This is not to say that I don’t like the United States. Trust me, I love it. I love the rights that I have, the democracy (hopefully) that we have, and the fact that I can walk down the street as a female and not be treated as if I am a worthless object. Being here has truly forced me to realize how many things I take for granted in the US. I knew being here would be hard, but it has tested me in ways that I could not have come close to imagining.
I am torn with emotions as my last few days creep up on me. The overriding emotion is that of happiness, for having been able to have this opportunity. Yes, many of the situations I’ve encountered here are devastating, but somehow I have a renewed sense of hope in humanity that I don’t quite know how to explain. Maybe it is simply that being on the complete opposite side of the Earth forced me to realize just how interconnected humanity really is, and how similar we all are. We may look different, have different beliefs, eat different foods, have different traditions, speak different languages, but that doesn’t erase the fact that we are all living, breathing, sleeping, eating, working, crying, smiling, creatures. We all generally feel the same kinds of emotions, we all have a need to love and to be loved, and we all generally desire the same things in life— happiness, safety/securing, love, support, and all the little things in between. I can share a moment with a Sri Lankan woman simply by smiling, acknowledging that we have so much more in common than we thought.
The girls I worked with at Emerge this summer have also inspired me more than I could ever describe in words. It is so frustrating at times to know how trapped they are, and yet so hopeful other times knowing that some will come out of the shelters one day and be strong women, with the help of Emerge. The final project that I am doing is a small pamphlet informing the girls of Emerge of their Constitutional rights regarding equality, and other laws in Sri Lanka pertaining to sexual abuse/assault. Most of these girls have no idea that there is, for example, a difference between rape and statutory rape, and that there is a punishment for small instances of abuse such as men cat-calling girls on the street. They are so accustomed to it that they perceive it as somewhat normal. For them, this is simply what happens to girls in this country frequently. The goal of my pamphlet is to inform them on the laws against sexual abuse so that they can slowly begin to learn that in law, their country does not support these things, and that it is not ok for men to treat the girls the way they’ve been treated. I haven’t had much time to put it together, but luckily I will be able to finish it up at home. Later, it will be translated into Tamil and Sinhala for the girls of Emerge.
I will post some pictures next week before I leave, but for now I need to get some sleep before heading to Kandy (central Sri Lanka) in the morning for one last weekend adventure. This week and weekend is the festival of Perahera, one of the largest, most brilliant religious festivals in all of south Asia. We paid a bit too much money for tickets, so I have extremely high expectations for this parade ;)